Difficult days ahead

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: NZ Herald
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: NZ Herald
There is good news and there is bad news.

The good news first. Trapped and thoroughly fed-up Aucklanders, not to mention those in the City of Sails teetering on the brink of financial ruin, have been handed a bit more liberty from today, with a change into their bespoke step 2 of Covid-19 Alert Level 3.

This means more than 1.5 million people can now return to shops and public facilities such as libraries, museums and zoos, and that outdoor gatherings can increase to 25 people, dispensing with the two-household rule introduced when the step system was invented.

With the exception of a few grinches, nobody can really be unhappy that Aucklanders, after just a week shy of three months, are finally getting a taste of the freedoms that many of us around the country have enjoyed since early September.

But now comes the inevitable bad news. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, according to Newton’s third law. The opening up of Auckland will result in the remainder of New Zealand feeling less safe and secure from the Delta variant.

In her Monday afternoon briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would announce next week when the border between Auckland and the rest of the country would be opened.

That could be in the next few weeks — perhaps around the end of November when Auckland expects to hit that magical rate of about 90% of eligible residents being fully vaccinated, allowing it to move to the new traffic-light alert system.

Or that border dismantling could be pushed into next month and closer to Christmas, just out of the same “abundance of caution” the Government has displayed in the past.

Ms Ardern has already committed to Aucklanders being allowed to travel for Christmas and to have a summer holiday, “regardless of what is happening around the rest of the country”.

It’s hard to know how to take that quote from the Prime Minister. Presumably it doesn’t mean Aucklanders being able to have a summer break at the expense of the balance of Kiwis. More likely, perhaps, it’s a tacit admission that by then the virus will be all over the place and we will really be learning to have to live with it.

Every day later the Government takes away that border buys time for more vaccinations to be administered. There are plenty of vulnerable people and communities around both islands who still need their second, or even their first, jabs.

As we know, Covid has already been dipping its toe into South Island waters. Somehow, happily, both incursions, into Blenheim and Christchurch, failed to gain a foothold.

Of course, it’s not Auckland’s fault that it has an out-of-control outbreak of Covid-19. Auckland has been bearing the brunt of arriving positive cases on behalf of the whole country. But it is only a matter of time before Delta spreads.

Once the border disappears, we can expect a surge of cooped-up Aucklanders heading for long weekends and vacations in the South. Some of these will be Covid-positive without knowing it

Good news, then, that Air New Zealand says from the middle of next month it will only carry on its domestic flights passengers aged 12 or over who can show they are fully vaccinated or who have had a negative Covid test before flying. Unfortunately, as we know, it is possible those who have the virus will fail to be detected by any tests they take before travelling.

What remains in our favour is that, compared with much of the world, New Zealand’s vaccination rates are now very good.

It is interesting how the Government’s messaging around the pandemic has changed. Just a week or so ago, experts were saying our rising daily case numbers were already ahead of where they had expected. But Ms Ardern now says they are around her expectations.

Without a doubt, between now and Christmas there are difficult days to come.


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